In the aftermath of Kanye West’s antisemitic rants, Kyrie Irving did what instigators do. He got busy pouring gasoline on flaming hot tensions, then pretended to be an innocent bystander when the lights came on. Basic home training dictates Irving should have apologized profusely on day one just to escape this news cycle from hell, but the Nets’ cantankerous point guard never makes anything easy.
Nearly a week after Irving tweeted the link to a trailer for the 2018 movie “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” on Amazon Prime Video, which makes several absurd and offensive claims about Jews, Irving flailed so badly in making amends that Commissioner Adam Silver requested his presence for a one-on-one meeting.
Instead, Irving did everything but apologize and doubled down telling the media over the weekend, “I’m only going to get stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me.”
Because of quotes like the one above, Irving has spent the last week as the human version of the viral clip of a foolhardy sheep stuck headfirst in a ditch, then scampering off after getting freed and accidentally hopping into another inescapable crevice.
During Irving’s FIRST attempt at explaining himself, he also added, “Whether you want to go watch it or not is up to you. There’s things being posted every day. I’m no different than the next human being, so don’t treat me any different. You guys come in here and make up this powerful influence that I have … [and say], ‘You cannot post that.’ Why not? Why not?”
Irving has either been willfully ignorant of the spread of open antisemitism since Kanye West’s despicable comments, or he doesn’t care. His nonchalance is even more egregious for someone who not only refused to get vaccinated, but labeled himself as a martyr and stated his intent to be a voice for the voiceless earlier this year. Suddenly, MLKyrie is oblivious to the parasocial relationship celebrities and NBA superstars have with the general public. Conveniently, Kanye’s first tweet after his account was reactivated was a nod to Irving.
On Thursday afternoon, Irving sounded like the Fonz attempting to cobble together syllables that were intended to equate to an apology without actually saying the words. For example, here’s how Irving danced around the question of whether he was an antisemite.
Sir, this is a Wendy’s… and the question was whether you’re an antisemite. The Nets saw enough and on Thursday night suspended him for at least five games, a ban that will cost him over a million dollars.
During this time, he’ll meet with Silver, but Irving might want to study Drew Brees circa the summer of 2020. It pains me to stan Brees this way, but he’s a prime example of how simple it can be for prominent athletes to unstitch themselves from a sticky predicament of their own making.
During an offseason interview with Yahoo Finance two years ago, Brees was asked for his take on other players kneeling during the anthem. Just weeks after the murder of George Floyd by three police officers, Brees thought it was wise to respond by expressing his disapproval of “anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.”
In the aftermath, the Saints quarterback was skewered by teammates such as Michael Thomas, Cam Jordan, Emmanuel Sanders, and even foes like pre-heel turn Aaron Rodgers called him out on his schtick.
But, he took the path of least resistance, sucked it up, and issued not one, but TWO apologies. First on Instagram and then in an Instagram video. By the time the season swung around, Brees’ flag comments were merely a footnote, and a year later, he was a studio analyst for NBC. That didn’t last because he sucked on camera, which signifies how easy it can be for even the least charismatic among sports figures. I’m certain Brees didn’t re-educate himself on how kneeling during the anthem wasn’t a slight towards inanimate United States flags in under 24 hours, but he did the right thing despite playing in a vastly more right-leaning league than the NBA. It’s so simple to do when you’re not trying to be slick and deflect.
However, Irving’s confirmation bias prevents him from true self-reflection. It took an entire year for Irving to apologize for claiming the earth was flat and that was the least harmful controversy he’s attached himself to in the last five years.
“At the time I didn’t realize the effect. I was definitely at that time, ‘I’m a big conspiracy theorist. You can’t tell me anything.’ I’m sorry about all that.” Irving said onstage at Forbes’ Under 30 Summit. “For all the science teachers, everybody coming up to me like, ‘You know I have to re-teach my whole curriculum!’ I’m sorry. I apologize. I apologize,” he said.
The other dangerous aspect of Irving’s comments is how he framed himself as the victim through his repeated attempts to pit his pro-black intentions against antisemitism. Especially when one of the core tenets of the film he’s spreading is a fake Hitler quote implying that white Jews are imposters covertly focused on global domination.
On Thursday night, Irving gave in with his own Instagram apology, but this may not be over yet because this is Kyrie Irving we’re talking about. Irving winning his staring contest with the Mayor of New York, his employer and the city of New York over the life-saving vaccine mandate further inflated his MLKyrie alter ego. However, he’s not a voice for the voiceless. Irving will continue to be a habitual line stepper because he likes the sound of his own voice.